State of Rhode Island
OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
150 South Main Street- Providence, Rl 02903
(401) 274-4400 www.riag.ri.gov
Peter F. Neronha
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VIA EMAIL ONLY
March 3, 2023
Ronald A. Cavallaro, Esq.
General Counsel, CCRI
Re: Arocho v. Community College of Rhode Island
Dear Ms. Arocho and Attorney Cavallaro:
The investigation into the Access to Public Records Act (“APRA”) complaint filed by Ms. Victoria Arocho (“Complainant”) against the Community College of Rhode Island (“CCRI”) is complete. For the reasons set forth herein, we find that CCRI did not violate the APRA.
The Complainant submitted a Complaint to this Office alleging that CCRI violated the APRA by improperly redacting parts of emails responsive to her APRA request. On July 28, 2022, the Complainant submitted an APRA request to CCRI seeking a “[c]opy of the contract, memorandum of understanding, purchase order, request for proposal, invoice between CCRI and Kara Larsen [and] [a]ll emails between Kara Larsen and CCRI Alix Ogden (sic) from January 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022.” She contends that, as to the responsive records, “a marker [was used] to redact the entirety of the last two emails [provided to her by CCRI].” She objects to “the redaction of the two emails in whole.” Appended to the Complaint was CCRI’s response to the Complainant’s request, dated August 4, 2022, as well as a copy of the Complainant’s initial request.
Attorney Ronald A. Cavallaro, General Counsel to CCRI, submitted a Response on behalf of CCRI. CCRI contends that the redacted emails were “not responsive to [the Complainant’s] APRA request” because the redacted emails were between “Alix Ogden and Director Roxanne M. Gomes of URI” whereas the Complainant requested “emails between Kara Larsen and CCRI Alix Ogden.” (emphasis in original). Although not raised in CCRI’s initial APRA response, CCRI notes that even if the redacted emails were responsive to the Complainant’s request, they would otherwise be non-public pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 38-2-2(4)(A)(1)(b), 38-2-2(4)(E), 38-2-2(4)(K), and 38-2-2(4)(P).
The Complainant submitted a Rebuttal wherein she reiterates her objection to CCRI’s redactions and notes that she “requested a parallel APRA from the University of Rhode Island” (URI) which yielded more responsive records than those provided by CCRI. She argues that CCRI failed “to provide all available emails between Mrs. Ogden and Mrs. Larsen.” The responsive records that the Complainant obtained through her APRA request to URI were provided to this Office by the Complainant for an in camera review.
When we examine an APRA complaint, our authority is to determine whether a violation of the APRA has occurred. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-8. In doing so, we must begin with the plain language of the APRA and relevant caselaw interpreting this statute.
Under the APRA, it is the requester’s burden to clearly articulate what documents are being sought. See Albanese v. North Kingstown Harbor Management Commission, PR 20-19; Howard v. Department of Environmental Management, PR 11-35; see also Assassination Archives and Research v. Central Intelligence Agency, 720 F.Supp. 217, 219 (D.D.C. 1989) (“it is the requester's responsibility to frame requests with sufficient particularity to ensure that searches are not unreasonably burdensome, and to enable the searching agency to determine precisely what records are being requested”).
Here, the Complainant requested “[a]ll emails between Kara Larsen and CCRI Alix Ogden from January 1, 2022 to July 31, 2022.” This Office conducted an in camera review of the “two emails [redacted] in whole” and confirmed that these redacted emails consist of communications between Alix Ogden and Roxanne Gomes (not Kara Larsen). As such, they are not responsive to the APRA request and CCRI did not violate the APRA by withholding these non-responsive emails.
In Rebuttal, the Complainant suggests that based on the URI’s response to a similar APRA request, she believes CCRI failed to produce all responsive emails. The Complainant contends that CCRI was “knowing, willful and or reckless in violating (sic) [the APRA] by failing to provide all available emails.”
As set forth to the parties when this matter was opened and consistent with this Office’s practice, this Office declines to address issues raised for the first time in rebuttal. In Mudge v. North Kingstown School Committee, we explained the reasoning behind this practice. We stated that if new allegations “were not raised until after the public body responded to the allegations raised in the complaint, the public body would have no opportunity to respond to the allegation.” See Aiello v. Westerly Town Council, OM 22-54 (“[c]onsistent with this Office's precedent and acknowledgement letters to the parties, this Office declines to review issues raised for the first time in a rebuttal.”); see also Mattero v. South Kingstown School Department, PR 21-01 (“this Office declines to review issues raised for the first time after the Complaint was filed”), Filippi v. New Shoreham Tourism Council 21-21 (“the new allegation raised for the first time in Complainant’s rebuttal is not properly before us”).
Because the instant Complaint was limited solely to the Complainant’s allegation that CCRI improperly redacted two emails, our review is limited to that allegation as raised. Any additional allegations regarding the completeness of CCRI’s substantive response to the request are outside the scope of the Complaint, and thus outside the scope of this Office’s investigation. The Complainant is free to submit a new Complaint regarding those issues.
Although the Attorney General has found no violation and has determined that it will not file suit in this matter, nothing within the APRA prohibits the Complainant from filing an action in Superior Court seeking injunctive or declaratory relief. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-8(b).
We thank you for your interest in keeping government open and accountable to the public.
PETER F. NERONHA
/s/ Adam D. Roach
Adam D. Roach
Special Assistant Attorney General
 To the extent the Complainant might argue that the withheld emails, which appeared earlier in the chain below emails between Kara Larsen and Alix Ogden, were responsive to the Complainant’s request, it is clear that CCRI strictly construed the request as solely seeking communications between Kara Larsen and Alix Ogden (not to include preceding communications between separate individuals). The burden is on the Complainant to frame the request clearly identifying the records being sought, and there is no evidence that the Complainant attempted to clarify this request with CCRI prior to filing the instant Complaint. The Complainant is free to submit a new APRA request seeking these other emails and CCRI would be required to respond in accordance with the APRA.
 The Complainant notes in her Rebuttal that she submitted her “parallel” APRA request to URI in order to “facilitate [this Office’s] investigation and decision making into ‘Arocho v. The Community College of Rhode Island – APRA Complaint dated August 4, 2022 [her underlying APRA Complaint]’” and to evidence a “knowing, willful and or reckless” violation of the APRA. It is thus unclear whether it was even the Complainant’s intention to raise new allegations in rebuttal.